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Oriole of the Day: Injury-hampered season leaves Anthony Santander needing improvement

With MLB owners continuing to lock out the players as the two sides slowly work toward a new collective bargaining agreement, Orioles officials are barred from specifically discussing players on the team’s 40-man roster.

The Baltimore Sun, of course, faces no such stipulations. Throughout the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at each Oriole, examining their 2021 seasons and what’s ahead for them in 2022, assuming the league and the players’ union eventually come together.

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After a couple of days off to look ahead to the international signing period and examine the impact of the Orioles’ decision to alter Camden Yards’ left-field dimensions, we’re back at it with outfielder Anthony Santander. Coming off a Most Valuable Oriole season in 2020, Santander suffered a sprained left ankle in late April that lingered throughout the season and hampered his performance.

Quick hits

2022 Opening Day age: 27

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2021 stats: .241/.286/.433, .720 OPS, 18 home runs, 23.1 K%, 5.3 BB%, 0.6 fWAR

Under team control through: 2024

2021 in review

Number to know: 10.4. Among players with at least 100 plate appearances in 2020 and 400 in 2021, Santander had the fifth-largest increase in groundball rate between seasons. Relatedly, his line drive and fly ball rates dropped, helping to explain a 140-point drop in slugging percentage.

What was good: There are aspects of Santander’s 2021 that suggest he could bounce back. His average exit velocity was a career-high 90.7 mph, highest on the Orioles; it was, however, paired with a stark decline in average launch angle. Although his strikeout rate spiked, his chase and swing-and-miss percentages were beneath their 2020 marks. Over about three months after he initially returned from the injured list, he hit .270/.316/.496 across 68 games; his stellar 2020 featured a .261/.315/.575 slash line in 37 games.

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What wasn’t: While the impact the ankle injury had on Santander’s bat is unclear — he was hitting .196 when it happened — it was apparent in other aspects of his game. A Gold Glove finalist in right field in 2020, Santander was tied for the fifth worst among all qualified outfielders in Statcast’s outs above average, struggling coming in and going left or right. He was one of 16 who was successful on half of his attempts or less, with some fallen hits prompting Orioles coaches to lament that the 2020 version Santander would’ve made the catch. His average sprint speed on the bases declined, as well; only six outfielders ran slower than Santander, on average.

After a right knee sprain ended Orioles right fielder Anthony Santander’s season in late September, manager Brandon Hyde said he believed Santander is more of the player he was in 2020 than 2021.
After a right knee sprain ended Orioles right fielder Anthony Santander’s season in late September, manager Brandon Hyde said he believed Santander is more of the player he was in 2020 than 2021. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Looking ahead to 2022

Likely 2022 role: Starting right fielder and middle-of-the-order bat.

What’s projected: After a right knee sprain ended Santander’s season in late September, manager Brandon Hyde said he believed Santander is more of the player he was in 2020 than 2021. Projections from Steamer and ZiPS suggest he’ll be somewhere in-between in 2022. Both systems estimate improvements in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and strikeout rate, forecasting he’ll finish in the mid-20s in home runs in a full season’s worth of plate appearances. With corner outfielder Kyle Stowers emerging as one of Baltimore’s top prospects, it’s possible some of those come with another team, with Santander a potential trade candidate once the lockout lifts.

A step forward: One metric on which the projection systems somewhat disagree is Santander’s walk rate, with Steamer seeing improvement from 2021 and ZiPS suggesting a dip beneath 5%. Regardless, that’s never been a strength of Santander’s. Over the past three seasons, he had the seventh-lowest on-base percentage (.295) among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances; new teammate Rougned Odor (.274) was the worst, with former teammate Maikel Franco (.286) coming in third. His 5.2% walk rate is also the 10th lowest in that span (again, with a couple former Orioles infielders in Hanser Alberto and José Iglesias ranking above him). Even incremental improvement in that area could lead to a much more well-rounded offensive profile.

Three up, three down

This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. The past three players featured in the series were Ryan Mountcastle, Tyler Wells and Jorge López. The Orioles due up next are Trey Mancini, Rougned Odor and Paul Fry.

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